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In a shockingly poor decision, the Indian Supreme Court has reversed the July 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court decriminalising gay sex between consenting adults. In doing so, India’s Supreme Court has recriminalized gay sex in India, rendering almost 20 percent of the global LGBT population illegal.
Overturning a High Court decision, the Indian Supreme Court upheld Indian Penal Code 377, an archaic and barbaric law that criminalizes “homosexual” acts:
377. Unnatural offenses — Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Western media and LGBT organizations are already demonizing India as “backward” after this ruling, which does not make life easier for Indians who are gay and lesbian abroad, and conveniently casts the West as an arbiter of freedom. In fact, the New York Times took a potshot at Asian countries as a whole in reporting about India’s tragic decision, perhaps forgetting that gay sex was illegal in parts of the United States only ten years ago. Because LGBT people have been marginalized and mistreated for so long, many people in the West mistakenly see some forms of “gay rights” as a marker for progress or modernity. Anthropologist Akshaye Khanna articulates this quite well:
We are seeing, in several parts of the world, a cynical appropriation of the discourse of sexual rights and sexuality by right wing and reactionary agendas. In Western Europe, North America and Israel, we see the phenomenon of ‘homonationalism’, where LGBT discourse is being used in deeply racist—usually Islamophobic—groups. In East Africa, the question of sexuality has come to be the central question in discourse about the nation – where notions of ‘Africanness’ have come to be tied to the position on homosexuality. This centering of the question of sexuality is always a way of diverting attention from political and economic questions relating to the control over natural resources, or instances of corruption.
While people in India and across the world are mourning and expressing outrage at the ruling, and shaming the entire country, it is important to note that Indian Penal Code 377 is a relic of British rule and colonialism. Contrary to the sexual puritanism and homophobia that the British wrote into the law while colonizing India, Indian and Hindu culture is enriched with queer sensibility. It is rather ironic that the British are finally getting ready to start allowing same-sex marriages next year, while their retrograde policies in former colonies continue to harm and hamper peoples lives. The Indian Supreme Court ruling is a reminder that the Indian people cannot rely on courts to strike down an injustice rooted in colonial oppression, and that colonial ideas remain ingrained in a so-called post-colonial country.
However, colonial-era law or not, many Indians are rightly outraged by this decision from the Indian Supreme Court, which should have outlawed colonial-era discrimination, instead of punting the question of sodomy to the Indian parliament. Thus far, the Indian parliament has remained non-commital on the issue, sparking more outrage on social media and across the country. In a display of vibrant democracy, Indians are taking to the streets both in India and abroad in protest of the ruling. That hardly seems backward and regressive to me.
Funnily, while LGBT organizations in the U.S. expressed disappointement at the decision, they have rarely ever expressed the same sort of outrage about queer immigrants who are criminalized and locked up in detention at home. Claudette Hubbard, a long-time lawful permanent resident of the U.S. who escaped Jamaica after facing persecution for being gay, has been locked in an ICE detention facility for two years now. Viesca, a transgender detainee at El Paso, Texas who won her credible fear interview, reported constant degradation and harassment from guards, and finally agreed to her own deportation yesterday. Kumar Jagdish, a gay asylum seeker from India, has been detained at El Paso, Texas since June, 2013. You won’t hear these stories in the mainstream media, because they do not show a flattering image of the United States as a beacon of hope or democracy. After all, detaining and deporting thousands of immigrants daily is not a marker of modernity any more than criminalizing homosexuality. Frankly, I am disappointed in all of us.
As for Section 377, the law is clearly an abomination. While Section 377 has rarely been used to criminalize gay persons in India, Indian queer liberation activist Kaveri Indira reports that there are many enforced laws on the books that cause less nationl and international outrage, such as Karnataka Police Acts, which criminalizes hijras, gender transgressives and transgender persons. Perhaps it is time to take the outrage, and pour it into the threats and daily assaults against queer and transgender persons of color that are far more real and tangible in both the U.S. and India, than this poor Supreme Court decision.
“The disease of men having sex with men is unnatural and not good for India. We are not able to identify where it is happening as it less reported also,” Azad said at the national convention of zila parishad chairpersons and mayors on HIV/AIDS.
Azad is moron of the week for being the Health Minister of a country and demonstrating that he is ill-equipped to deal with matters of sexual health.
I can turn my brain off for a second and enjoy this video of Priyanka Chopra in a new avatar:
Of course, I don’t understand why the other woman has to appear dressed like a man to denote that kind of ‘Dostana.’ This adoption of gayness for humor is a troubling trend that reveals the deeper homophobic attitude of India. Why on earth is a gay relationship funny and any different than a straight relationship?
So far, only men have been acting gay for humor on the big Bollywood stage (Saif Ali Khan and Shahrukh Khan have entertained us with their gay act for far too many Filmfare Awards), but now Priyanka takes the cake for going a notch further.
Here is the polling question and results:
As you may know there will be one question on the ballot this November in Maine addressing the issue of same-sex unions. In part it will read “Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry?” A yes vote takes away the right of same-sex couples to marry. A no vote keeps the right of same-sex couples to marry. If the election were held today would you vote YES or NO on this question?
It’s within the margin of error but it doesn’t look good for LGBT Mainers and the fight for marriage equality.
But releasing these polls gives us more ammunition to shift all eyes and operations to Maine. I expect more donations to flood into the No on 1 coffers as people realize the gravity of the situation.
In the meanwhile, No on 1 and Travel for Change are escalating the out-of-state volunteer recruitment efforts by releasing a new “Volunteer Vacation” video and simultaneously rolling out additional online travel resources. Here is the link to the video if you haven’t seen it yet.
A recent State of the Nation 2009 CNN-IBN survey revealed quite a homophobic India. As many as 73% Indians feel homosexuality should be considered illegal while 83% felt that homosexuality is not part of Indian culture and 90% of Indians won’t give their house on rent to a gay or lesbian couple.
Watch the survey results here:
Gautam Bhan quite positively reflects that attitudes cannot be freeze-framed because they keep changing. Five years ago, he wouldn’t even be allowed to give his opinion on that platform. So some progress is definitely evident.
In light of these changing attitudes, Hindustan Times (Times Nows) is taking the lead on opening minds in advertisements which literally hits homophobia on the head. One of them goes like this: two friends are sitting in a cafe when one of them spots a gay male couple holding hands and nudges his friend, making fun of them. The friend rolls up the newspaper and hits him on the head instead. And he shuts up. It’s simply a short and sweet ad spot from Times Now about making a difference and recruiting a younger audience.Video here.
Alas, the message hasn’t reached the vernacular presses yet. Times Now–an English channel–probably has a better reach in the urban and metropolitan areas, where attitudes towards homosexuality are more likely to be liberal. But, it is the most watched English channel in India and for Times Now to take this step forward speaks volumes for the progress queers are making in India.
It’s the small steps that build a movement.